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mon has, indeed, deserved his praises, had they been given with discernment, and bestowed not on the rules themselves, but the art with which they are introduced, and the decorations with which they are adorned.
The essay, though generally excellent, is not without its faults. The story of the quack, borrowed from Boileau, was not worth the importation; he has confounded the British and Saxon mythology:
I grant that from some mossy idol oak,
In double rhymes, our Thor and Woden spoke. The oak, as, I think, Gildon has observed, belonged to the British druids, and Thor and Woden were Saxon deities. Of the “double rhymes,” which he so liberally supposes, he certainly had no knowledge.
His interposition of a long paragraph of blank verses is unwarrantably licentious. Latin poets might as well have introduced a series of iambicks among their heroicks.
His next work is the translation of the Art of Poetry; which has received, in my opinion, not less praise than it deserves. Blank verse, left merely to its numbers, has little operation either on the ear or mind: it can hardly support itself without bold figures and striking images. A poem, frigidly didactick, without rhyme, is so near to prose, that the reader only scorns it for pretending to be verse.
Having disentangled himself from the difficulties of rhyme, he may justly be expected to give the sense of Horace with greatexactness, and to suppress
no subtilty of sentiment, for the difficulty of expressingit. This demand, however, his translation will not satisfy; what he found obscure, I do not know that he has ever cleared.
Among his smaller works, the eclogue of Virgil and the Dies Iræ are well translated; though the best line in the Dies Iræ is borrowed from Dryden. In return, succeeding poets have borrowed from Roscommon.
In the verses on the Lap-dog, the pronouns thou and you are offensively confounded; and the turn at the end is from Waller.
His versions of the two odes of Horace are made with great liberty, which is not recompensed by much elegance or vigour.
His political verses are sprightly, and, when they were written, must have been very popular.
Of the scene of Guarini, and the prologue to Pompey, Mrs. Phillips, in her letters to sir Charles Cotterel, has given the history.
“Lord Roscommon,” says she, “is certainly one of the most promising young noblemen in Ireland. He has paraphrased a psalm admirably; and a scene of Pastor Fido, very finely, in some places much better than sir Richard Fanshaw. This was undertaken merely in compliment to me, who happened to say, that it was the best scene in Italian, and the worst in English. He was only two hours about it.” It begins thus:
Dear happy groves, and you, the dark retreat
Of silent horrour, Rest's eternal seat.
From these lines, which are since somewhat mended, it appears that he did not think a work of two hours fit to endure the eye of criticism, without revisal.
When Mrs. Phillips was in Ireland, some ladies that had seen her translation of Pompey, resolved to bring it on the stage at Dublin; and, to promote their design, lord Roscommon gave them a prologue, and sir Edward Deering, an epilogue;"which,” says she, “ are the best performances of those kinds I ever saw.” If this is not criticism, it is, at least, gratitude. The thought of bringing Cæsar and Pompey into Ireland, the only country over which Cæsar never had any power, is lucky.
Of Roscommon's works, the judgment of the publick seems to be right. He is elegant, but not great; he never labours after exquisite beauties, and he seldom falls into gross faults. His versification is smooth, but rarely vigorous; and his rhymes are remarkably exact. He improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors to English literature,
zThis life was originally written by Dr. Johnson, in the Gentleman's Magazine for May, 1748. It then had notes, which are now incorporated with the text. C.
F Thomas Otway, one of the first names in the
English drama, little is known; nor is there any part of that little which his biographer can take pleasure in relating.
He was born at Trottin, in Sussex, March 3, 1651, the son of Mr. Humphry Otway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester school, where he was educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ church; but left the university without a degree, whether for want of money, or from impatience of academical restraint, or mere eagerness to mingle with the world, is not known.
It seems likely that he was in hope of being busy and conspicuous; for he went to London, and commenced player; but found himself unable to gain any reputation on the stage.
This kind of inability he shared with Shakespeare and Jonson, as he shared likewise some of their excellencies. It seems reasonable to expect that a great dramatick poet should, without difficulty, become a great actor; that he who can feel, should express; that he who can excite passion, should exhibit, with great readiness, its external modes: but since experience has fully proved, that of those powers, whatever be their affinity, one may be possessed in a great degree by him who has very little of the other; it
a In Roscius Anglicanus, by Downes, the prompter, p. 34, we learn, that it was the character of the king in Mrs. Behn's Forced Marriage, or the Jealous Bridegroom, which Mr. Otway attempted to perform, and failed in. This event appears to have happened in the year 1672. R.
must be allowed that they depend upon different faculties, or on different use of the same faculty; that the actor must have a pliancy of mien, a flexibility of countenance, and a variety of tones, which the poet may be easily supposed to want; or that the attention of the poet and the player has been differently employed; the one has been considering thought, and the other action; one has watched the heart, and the other contemplated the face.
Though he could not gain much notice as a player, he felt in himself such powers as might qualify for a dramatick author; and, in 1675, his twenty-fifth year, produced Alcibiades, a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to inquire. Langbaine, the great detecter of plagiarism, is silent.
In 1677, he published Titus and Berenice, translated from Rapin, with the Cheats of Scapin, from Molière; and, in 1678, Friendship in Fashion, a comedy,which, whatever might be its first reception, was, upon its revival at Drury lane, in 1749, hissed off the stage for immorality and obscenity.
Want of morals, or of decency, did not, in those days, exclude any man from the company of the wealthy and the gay, if he brought with him any powers of entertainment; and Otway is said to have been, at this time, a favourite companion of the dissolute wits. But, as he who desires no virtue in his companion, has no virtue in himself, those whom Otway frequented had no purpose of doing more for him than to pay his reckoning. They desired