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people, the learned, and the court. If there are certain cases in which all may be comprehended in the term people, this is not one of those cases. Whatever father. It Rapin may say about it, we are more willing even to admire than to laugh. Every man that has any power of distinction, laughs as rarely as the philosopher ad. mires ; for we are not to reckon those fits of laughter which are not incited by nature, and which are given merely to complaisance, to respect flattery, and good humour ; such as break out at sayings which pretend to smartness in assemblies. The laughter of the theatre is of another stamp. Every reader and spectator judges of wit by his own standard, and measures it by his capacity, or by his condition ; the different capacities and conditions of men make them diverted on very different occasions. If, therefore, we consider the end of the tragic and comic poet, the comedian must be involved in much more difficulties, without taking in the obstructions to be encountered equally by both, in an art, which consists in raising the passions, or the mirth of a great multitude. The tragedian has little to do but to reflect upon his own thought, and draw from his heart those sentiments which will certainly make their way to the hearts of others, if he found them in his own. The other must take many forms, and change himself almost into as inany persons, as he undertakes to satisfy and divert.
It may be said, that if genius be supposed equal, and success supposed to depend upon genius, the business will be equally easy and difficult to one author and to the other. This objection is of no weight ; for the same question
still recurs, which is, whether of these two kinds of genius is more valuable or more rare. If we proceed by example, and not by reasoning, we shall decide I
think in favour of comedy. till It may be said, that, if merely art be considered, it will
require deeper thoughts to form a plan just and simple ; ad to produce happy surprises without apparent contrivance; er to carry a passion skilfully through its gradations to its en height; to arrive happily to the end by always moving
from it, as Ithaca seemed to fly Ulysses ; to unite the acts and scenes ; and to raise by insensible degrees a striking edifice, of which the least merit shall be exactDess of proportion. It may be added, that in comedy this art is infinitely less, for there the characters come upon the stage with very little artifice or plot ; the whole scheme is so connected that we see it at once, and the
plan and disposition of the parts make a small part of its be excellence, in comparison of a gloss of pleasantry dif
fused over each scene, which is more the happy effect
of a lucky moment, than of long consideration. E al . These objections, and many others, which so fruitful
a subject might easily suggest, it is not difficult to refute ; and if we were to judge by the impression made on the mind by tragedies and comedies of equal excellence, perhaps, when we examine those impressions, it will be found that a sally of pleasantry, which diverts all the world, required more thought than a passage which gave the highest pleasure in tragedy ; and to this determination we shall be more inclined when a closer examination shall show as, that a happy vein of tragedy is
opened and effused at less expense, than a well placed witticism in comedy has required merely to assign its place.
It would be too much to dwell long upon such a digression ; and as I have no business to decide the question, I leave both that and my arguments to the taste of each particular reader, who will find what is to be said for or against it. My purpose was only to say of comedy, considered as a work of genius, all that a inan of letters can be supposed to deliver without departing from his character, and without palliating in any degree the corrupt use which has been almost always made of an exhibition which in its nature might be innocent ; but has been vicious from the time that it has been infected with the wickedness of men. It is not for public exhibitions that I am now writing, but for literary inquiries. The stage is too much frequented, and books too much neglected. Yet it is to the literature of Greece and Rome, that we are indebted for that valuable taste, which will be insensibly lost by the affected negligence which now prevails of having recourse to originals. If reason has been a considerable gainer, it must be confessed that taste has been somewhat a loser.
To return to Aristophanes. So many great men of antiquity, through a long succession of ages, down to our times, have set a value upon his works, that we cannot naturally suppose them contemptible, notwithstanding the essential faults with which he may be justly reproached. It is sufficient to say, that he was esteemed by Plato and Cicero; and to conclude by that which
does him most honour, but still falls short of justification, the strong and sprightly eloquence of St. Chrysostom drew its support from the masculine and vigorous atticism of this sarcastic comedian, to whom the father paid the same regard as Alexander to Homer, that of putting his works under his pillow, that he might read them at night before he slept, and in the morning as soon as he awaked.
the four arti
of in this dis
Summary of 1. THUS I have given a faithful extract of cles treated the remains of Aristophanes. That I have course not shown them in their true form, I am not afraid that any body will complain. I have given an account of every thing as far as it was consistent with moral decency. No pen, however cynical or heathenish,would venture to produce in open day the horrid passages which I have put out of sight ; and instead of regretting any part that I have suppressed, the very suppression will easily show to what degree the Athenians were infected with licentiousness of imagination and corruption of principles. If the taste of antiquity allows us to preserve what time and barbarity have hitherto spared, religion and virtue at least oblige us not to spread it before the eyes of mankind. To end this work in an useful manner, let us examine in a few words the four particulars which are most striking in the eleven pieces of Aristophanes,